Plugin Authors Get No Love

One interesting thing in the whole adware themes discussion is the people claiming if we require GPL it’ll kill the number and quality of themes out there, that the best themes have ads in them, that they couldn’t make themes if they weren’t getting the SEO gaming money, et cetera and so on.

There are two types of WordPress add-ons, themes and plugins. Are there any similarities?

  1. Plugins are just as hard or harder to write and design as themes.
  2. All plugins in our directory are required to be GPL or compatible.
  3. Plugin authors almost never get links on the front-end of a blog.
  4. I’m not aware of any plugins that bundle advertising with the intention of gaming search engines, like themes are.

Despite all of this, the plugin ecosystem around WordPress is flourishing, especially since we made the plugin directory, and hundreds have been added. It seems any of the doomsday scenarios people are expecting to happen to themes would have happened to plugins years ago. If ad-bundled themes really are better, a suggestion I find insulting to all those who volunteer their time for WordPress, then maybe they should start their own theme directory with only adware themes and they should get a ton of traffic.

(And just to respond to the title, I think plugin authors get tons of love, and hopefully we can help them get more with upcoming revisions to the plugin directory.)

81 thoughts on “Plugin Authors Get No Love

  1. I love plug-in authors! Without them, I would be doomed! Mine is to use the blog, not to create it. My experience goes as far as the readme file in the plug-in zip file. 🙂

    I do know how to copy and paste that php call thingy tho! I just hope that no one changes the “loop” because it took me forever and a day to figure out where that derned loop was! 🙂

  2. I’m getting a lot more love (and support requests) since having my plugin in the new directory.

    There’s a definite buzz amongst wp-plugin developers at the moment.

  3. For the record, some of the best & most popular themes out there don’t contain “sponsored ads.” I’m speaking of K2, Cutline, and Sandbox. (If they do contain such links, I’m scheduling an eye checkup…)

    If the development of the beast-of-a-theme K2 doesn’t warrant paid ads in its footer, why would any theme?

    Also, I’ve never heard that the sponsored link *must* be kept in a theme. The best CC offers is that attribution (*not* advertisement) must be provided. If that adverts qualify as attribution, I must be failing to understand what attribution is.

  4. I don’t think there would be any doomsday scenario for themes if sponsored links were somehow made illegal. Regulus has done very well for me, and I am currently working on a second theme with an idea for a third – neither will have sponsored links and, with any luck, both will be an improvement on what has gone before.

  5. I think that the main difference between plugins and themes in this context is that plugins are more unique because they each add a new functionality.
    Themes all do the same thing (display the blog), are often similar to some other theme and are often customised by the end user anyway.
    So it’s easier to put a theme into the world than a plugin, and the theme author has more control than their plugin equivalent – which is why ads appear in free themes.

  6. Great post, I can honestly say that without the plug-ins that I have been blessed to have, my site would look like every other site out there. The WordPress community and the creators have done an awesome job of making WordPress the greatest blogging platform out there.

    The plug-in authors can be proud that they are making WordPress sites some of the most professional. I purchased my theme from it’s creator, but because he did such an excellent job I still keep his name on it (he sent me the info to remove it, but I won’t).

    Thanks to all the plug-in and theme creators and the programmers who developed WordPress. You guys are a cut above all the others.

    The Tampa Pirate

  7. I’m consistently amazed at the amount of people developing and maintaining plugins. I’ve started to provide linkbacks on the plugins I keep installed on a more permanent basis, and was planning to do a little donation cycle….a $1 per developer that has a “donate” button around. I know it’s not much, however if everyone using the plugins gives back a little, I’m sure it can add up!

  8. Simple.

    Plugin developers are programmers who understand the benefit and reason behind open source/free software. Theme developers are designers who do not necessary understand FOSS.

    Not saying one is superior than the other, but just two different groups of people coming from two different backgrounds.

  9. Well, there are some plugins that have links by default. One for example is Alex King’s Share This… includes a back link to the author. I should note this is not a sponsored link.

  10. I’m one guy that likes to give credit where credit is due which includes using such things like keeping the link to the theme author in the footer and in the case of plugins, using the “Enhanced Plugins Used Plugin” by “]V[orlock Zernebock” and incorporated it into a page on my blog that shows up not only in the sidebar page listing (a work in progress) but as a tab at the top of the header as well.

    Heck, I’ve even had people comment on the list.

  11. Yay, at last, we’re recognized. Plugin writers never needed to require linkbacks. They just kept on coming in. Especially if the plugin is crappy. You’ll get tons of complaints from their blogposts. 🙂

  12. I’m confident the ‘doomsday’ scenario would not affect theme development. Some of the top free WP themes available today got to the top w/o sponsorship… as will others that follow. Cutline… K2 … Tarski … to name a few.

    The emergence of sponsored themes has sort of removed that sense of community that we love so much about WP. Eh, maybe that’s just me.

    The last theme I released w/ a CC license – – only to try and stop the practice of users removing my attribution and substituting their own.. that kinda grinds on my nerves. But, really – the folks who do that kind of thing are going to do it regardless of what type of license I tack on. I’m changing it to GPL and won’t worry about it.

    Thank you, Matt, for bringing so much attention to the sponsorship issue – – at the very least, it has opened up the conversation on the topic.

    Oh – and I totally

  13. But Ben is running Casino text links on the Binary Moon site

    I would argue it is better to have a link on the theme that is sponsored by a reputable company, than to link through to a site that is being monetized in a manner you have no control over either short term or long term.

    The links theme designers include in the footer even to their own sites is the easiest way to game Technorati. It only takes one good theme to get in the top 1000 sites on Technorati, and that helps a huge amount with monetization, even if you have hardly any subscribers.

  14. With plugins it really depends on the complexity it. You can have plugins that span three lines in total, or something like UTW or Gregarious that have multiple files with hundreds of lines in each.

    Themes I find easier to design, but I’m a bad designer. Sort of paradoxical, really…

  15. Couple of points:

    1. Plugins, generally, are smaller files than themes. It’s not going to cost you as much bandwidth to host a plugin as a theme. Unless it’s a really popular plugin and a not very popular theme, naturally.

    2. Your average designer is much more hung up on things like attribution than your average coder. Your average coder is much more hung up on things like the purity and goodness of open source than your average designer. It’s a cultural thing. It doesn’t make the plugin authors better people than the theme authors. It means they’re coming from a different place, with a different set of skills and a different set of priorities.

    Your average hacker thinks anyone can throw together a bit of CSS and make a few images in Photoshop, why are these people being so precious? And your average designer, probably, thinks these code people are philistines who should just try making a theme that works across five browsers and four screen resolutions and looks aesthetically pleasing (it tends to be the latter bit they fall down on).

    We get the message, you love the plugin guys so much more than the themers. Always have, always will.

    (btw, I came across a reference to a plugin with bundled links yesterday. I’ll try to dig it out for you, if only to prove that some hackers are just as blackhearted as those dastardly designers.)

  16. @rick- cutline was released to build a buzz for chris’ other theme, pressrow, does have a sponsored link to findcreditcards. (findcreditcards does host the theme, fwiw).

    nonetheless, the point is ridiculous. there are plenty of other examples: regulus, kiwi, fauna, etc.

  17. Huge thanks to the plugin authors!! Matt’s right but I’d like to mention that plugin authors have to be prepared to put up with a ton of support requests that span the spectrum.

    I’m always amazed with some users who dole out the abuse when plugins don’t work. More often than not, the problem lies with their host’s configuration.

  18. Plugins are just as hard or harder to write and design as themes.

    Well that depends, I consider myself an excellent coder, but I suck at graphical design so plugins are definitely easier for me.

    Your main point is, of course, still completely valid though.

  19. I am about to start designing themes now that I know enough about the WordPress system to do it. And, I would never use theme sponsorship in them because it goes against the whole principle of WordPress.

    I know you’ve talked to Small Potato at WPDesigner, and he offers some of the best, free, quality WordPress themes out there. I don’t think it would hurt the WordPress community at all to lose the sponsored themes.

    Also, plugin authors are the best! I don’t know where I’d be, or many others would be, without them.

  20. While I personally have no problems with sponsored themes (everyone deserves to make a buck for their efforts), I agree that if sponsored links are banned that it wont affect the world in the long run.

    And plugin authors: If I could convince my wife that Plugin was a good name for our first born, I would do it just to show my love for you. 🙂

  21. I agree with what you say totally man. I hate ads and never used it in any of my sites, I rather get the money through people wiliness (donations) or through my own pocket if that is not enough to pay for the hosting. If WordPress is a free software, I do not see a need for theme authors to earn money through ads on their theme.

  22. To be honest, I deliberately added a theme link in my blog, even though I’m using a theme that doesn’t require it, and in fact it’s a theme that’s designed to be so heavily modified such that the user’s end result should look nothing like the theme that was shipped. I do this for two reasons:

    1. I feel like I owe it to the author. He put in lots of work into the theme, and he deserves the extra page rank. It’s also why we do posts along the lines of “Top 10 WordPress plugins” and “What plugins I use on my blog“.

    2. All the hip themes have an attribution link, so I feel there’s a bandwagon somewhere I need to be on >_>

  23. Themes are definitely less powerful and get a lot more attention than plugins, if you like how a site does something it is usually hard to figure out what plug-in it may be. For themes you just scroll to the bottom!

  24. I am biased, but I agree completely. If there were no theme authors, people would just go to OSWD, download a theme and have to figure out the templating system–which really isn’t that difficult once you get used to it. However, if there were no plugin authors, users would have to go learn three or four programming/scripting languages to do any really useful things.

    As for credit or rewards, for most plugins, the most you can do is add a donation button to the Admin panel somewhere (I’ve personally done this with a couple of my most popular plugins and I’ve had only a few takers out of hundreds of users) and hope the user is kind enough to link to you through an announcement.

  25. The idea that themes “can’t be done” without an equivalent of adware inserted into the design is beyond ridiculous.

    It’s the usual grab-for-cash defence and really no different to the same kind of FUD surrounding PPP (i.e. folks go broke without it).

    I beleive the best way, if money does help, is to ask, politely, for optional donations. That way those with some spare coin can help invest in an authors time and effort.

    Well put Matt, well put.

  26. Somehow I’d missed the post on adware themes that WLTC did…. Thanks for mentioning it again, it’s a good thing to be at least aware that’s happening. Personally, I think requiring GPL on themes would be a good thing and I highly doubt it would change the amount of high quality themes put out either (if someone’s going to make a theme, someone’s going to make a theme).

  27. I think there is more of an argument that WP plugins must be GPL-liscensed than there is that WP themes must be GPL-licensed. Especially when you’re talking about a theme’s CSS… how is that in any way derivative of WordPress? It references CSS classes and IDs in a PHP template that uses WP API functions — that’s pretty far removed.

    Of course, while that observation might not jive with your take on theme licensing requirements, it does strengthen your argument that plugins have not been hurt from being Free, as there is a greater percentage of Freely licensed plugins than Freely licensed themes, and plugin development is a booming market.

  28. I have no particular opinion on GPL for themes (if anything, dual-licensing with the PHP files GPLed would fit).

    But I find the whole doomsday scenario insulting for our intelligence!
    Like you said on WLTC, there have been adfree themes before, and there will be adfree themes after the adware ones disappear from the directory.
    To say that themes couldn’t be developed saved for SEO gaming money is short-sighted at best, insulting at worst.

  29. …And about plugin authors getting no love, I think this is the appropriate moment to deliver this message to the author of my favourite antispam plugin: Dave, I love you, I swear that other night I was drunk, those things I did with the midget dominatrix didn’t mean anything to me ; please return my calls. :'(

  30. Well said Matt, plugin authors seldom get the love that tehem authors get, except for a few plugins that are visible to the end users.

    Plugins that work in the background don’t have the opportunity of getting the link love…

  31. Oops. I accidentally clicked on the submit button when I was aiming for the text box. Resuming then, Matt wrote:
    > Go Ben!

    I understand the opposition to trickery. I agree that hiding sponsored links or otherwise tricking people is bad. I also understand the desire to protect other people from any potentially ill effects of unscrupulous links. I share those same concerns. Knowledge is power, so by all means, empower people with information.

    What I do not understand, though, Matt, is why you seem to be such a strong opponent of free choice. Of course, despite all of the Free Software Foundation and GNU GPL free software propaganda, the GPL itself actually limits freedoms too, but assertion of GPL terms combined with rejection of deceitful advertising (again, a rejection that I fully understand and encourage) do not seem to be enough for you; you seem to want to limit freedoms even more; free as in freedom does not seem to be good enough for you; you seem to want everything that others make to work with WordPress to be free as in beer too, but not only that, free as in beer without so much as a mention of the name of the person who paid for that beer. Now you have been writing about banning even innocuous offerings with commercial links and you are encouraging Ben in response to an absurd notion about not merely banning sponsored links, but somehow making them illegal (it may be only a notion and not an intended course of action, but the very notion is absurd). That I definitely do not understand.

    If people are honest and straightforward about things and as long as themes or plugins or whatever else do not violate any applicable licensing terms, why do you care whether they choose whether to offer their work for free with or without sponsor links? Why do you care whether users choose to use such themes or to not use them? What is this really about?

    Before caving into all of the pressure to ban sponsored themes, you should consider that every single person who wants them banned could simply ignore or filter out themes marked as being sponsored instead of you banning them outright. They have that choice, but people who want to see good themes whether or not they happen to contain sponsored links do not have the choice to see what is not there.

    Some kind filtering feature that hides sponsored themes from users who do not want to see them would be easy to implement and it would give everyone what they want for themselves without limiting the freedoms of other theme authors or theme users.

    Letting a vocal minority of cheapskates and socialists who expect everything in their world to come to them for free as in beer decide that everyone else should not be able to use sponsored themes would be like allowing a small group of anti-capitalist socialists to hold one final democratic vote to ban democracy for everyone. It just doesn’t make sense.

  32. Not to jump on the bandwagon, but..
    I could spend the time to write a plugin, but when I find one that I matches just what I need (or even greater, the author updates it for what I need) I go out of the way to drop a donation on them as well.
    They saved me the time and trouble. They did the debugging. I can do the work I want to do on the blog rather than spending my time debugging.

  33. I do not agree with Mark Jaquith that there is more of an argument that plugins *must be* GPL licensed than themes. It is up to the author what license to distribute either a plugin or a theme. It is certainly not upto WP or Automattic or any individuals therein to pontificate on what other people should or should not do with their own code and nor should they hold forth on what they pereceive other folk should or should not do with what is Open Source Software at all.

  34. @mark-
    AFAIK, IANAL, assorted other disclaimers;
    a theme’s CSS doesn’t catch GPL from linking to wordress, it catches GPL from being bundled with the PHP templates. you could distribute the two seperately, and keep your CSS CC-by, but when you bundle the two together, if your templates are GPL, so must your stylesheet be.

  35. My thoughts. I think the problem is that there are millions of people trying to set their own blog and only few are successful, I have spent over $500 on hosting, domain reg, security programs, etc. on my blog, and so far get nothing back from it. My blog is more business related but I’m doing no business so far thanks to it. All my business revenue comes from other sources. Therefore is hard for me to keep investing in donating money to plugin authors even when I know they deserve it. As soon as I start getting business through my website my first duty will be contributing to them all. Just my opinion.



  36. I’m so in love with my plug-ins that I intend to have a page dedicated JUST to list them, who wrote them (with links to their sites), and why they are so great. And funny enough – I’m glad to see there’s a plug-in to help me do just that!!

  37. Plugin authors get link love from other places. It’s much more common that bloggers link to cool/useful plugins than to cool/useful themes.

  38. You know, the problem with people who write plugins is that they make me lazy.

    I have been using WordPress for about a year. Every time I find myself thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if I learned how to…” I discover that someone with vastly more talent has created a plugin to do that.

    I do think I need to check the sites for plugins I use and make a donation to the author. Isn’t the absence of frustration worth what you’d pay to buy the guy or gal a couple of beers / lattes / high-quality chocolate bars?

    I don’t know anything about ads, except that Guy Kawasaki, who has a lot of readers, claims he made only $3,600 from ads on his blog last year.

  39. I couldn’t agree more Matt. Thanks to all of the plugin developers for those I use and those I don’t use. It’s this community that makes WP the best blog engine to use.

  40. Matt, I concur your thoughts. I can not imagine myself learning programming and add to the functionality of WP for my requirements. Without the plugin authors, I don’t think I would have made this far with WP 🙂

  41. I think its fair game for the designer of a theme to put a backlink to his/her site. When you’re providing themes for free, a simple link is great for the designer’s PageRank and subsequent success.

    For example, for a project recently, I used the Sadnbox theme. It has a backlink built into it which I have no problem leaving in place. Those designers did a great job and deserve the credit.

  42. I just want to leave a quick comment, as a reaction to the entire sponsored themes debate…

    I have a link to my site in the footer, and a link to a website belonging to a good friend of mine who has helped me with many things (including the themes). Nobody has called it a “sponsored link”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone would misunderstand it and point me out as another bad-guy. I guess it would be a sponsored link if I would have got paid to put it there. But since that is not the case, it is just a link – and a regular link shouldn’t be a problem. Correct?

    Now, I have written before that I accept your wish to not see sponsored links in the themes. I am one of the lucky guys since I can easily make a living from the ads on my website instead. But there is still one detail you should know:

    I turn down theme sponsoring offers worth 2.500-5.000 american dollars per month just because you have asked me to. And I do it even though those money would make it possible for me to spend all my working time on helping people who are using my themes (and WordPress in general) for free, which I did before.

    I could also pay off old debt, get a good college degree, travel the world and buy a car if I had that extra money. But the topic is infected to a ridiculous level, and I would be mad if someone would claim that I would be abusing the popularity just because I love working with web design and with WordPress…

    With all this in mind, could you please take a look at my themes, check the credit links that I have and let me know if you consider me to be a bad-guy? It would be nice to know that I could stop worrying about being on the dark side just because I’m giving credit to my friend for helping me when I have needed it. Thanks, once again!

  43. writing plugins is hardwork. The plugin may be perfect on your testing. But when it goes out, you are overwhelmed by the different problems faced by people using it!

  44. “Plugin authors almost never get links on the front-end of a blog.” — there’s now a “plugins used plugin” that does a fine job of displaying active plugins as a list, and it’s been widgetized!

  45. Plugins are what makes wordpress the powerful cms that it is. With quite a couple on my site (I tried my best to shave them all down to a few but still so many!) I make sure to link them in the about page and to mention them on my posts when I implement them. They get lots of love.. no doubt about it!

    For the record, I think sponsored themes are just a choice designers make and thats really fine. They can setup their own site to host all of them sponsored theme thingys if they were really THAT hot and in demand. They deserve a (if not more) link, they deserve credit but not at the expense of letting in the unscrupulous (evil) designers who hide links and spam the database with lousy quality work. Well, if they aren’t just outright banned (which I’m not suggesting), that would mean alot more work in vetting and checking a theme inside out before allowing it to be hosted. If there was enough manpower and time.. why not? After a while, the strict measures would just discourage the (evil) designers from even trying to spam the theme directory with their crap but still let the legit ones who go for full disclosure host their work there and make a living? gets a nice theme, users can find it easily, designers get to make some cash. win-win-win situation..

  46. Andreas, it’s kind of a grey area. It’s still something that the users weren’t expecting or asking for when they got the theme, but if it’s not meant to game search engines and you weren’t paid for it then it’s in a different class and not as bad as paid link spam.

  47. Now if a plugin author would just write a plugin that details for the user, all the links that are “tucked” into the installed theme.

  48. I think that it is about time somebody to make “Credits” plug-in.
    It must take all the activated plug-in names with the author names and display them in a page: I have my weblog thanks to:
    – list…

  49. Plugins are actually more popular than themes, but people often forget about plugin authors. Many people (myself included) are happy to stick with the default ‘Kubrick’ theme that comes with WordPress (easy to use and nice looking) – but I have yet to come across a WordPress blog that just uses the ‘out of the box’ features without any plugins at all.

  50. Writing a great plugin gets plenty of exposure, links from other blogs, and a tremendous amount of thank-you comments. I enjoy writing plugins because of all of the exposure my blog gets and the warm response from everyone. It’s not all that bad!

    Of course, it may be nice to get a personal link from ‘the’ Matt once in a while. 😉

  51. I lousy at programming and designing, but I still crank plugins and themes out for my own use. I only put one plugin up on my site for public use just in case anyone wants it and searches for it.

    when I look at great plugins, I see the wonderful things programmers like GamerZ(Lester Chan) have done in improving wordpress. I’d love to see them get more kudos and more love.

    Designing themes? Aren’t they just varying degrees of the default theme? Ok, Andreas puts out some great themes, but 80% of the themes out there are either junk or simple mods of existing themes. Think how wordpress would be if 80% of the plugins put out there were junk or simple mods of other plugins.

  52. I have limited scripting skills. And I understand the pain of writing anything. (hence limited scripting skills)

    Plugin Authors do get love like you said. But here’s me expressing more ^_^

    Thanks Plugin Authors

  53. I like the fact that the plugin repository will give plugin authors some luuurv. Apart from making our lives (as plugin users) easier, it will encourage even more plugins, and hopefully even better quality plugins.

  54. I try to link to the authors of the plugins I use, if even in a post. But I didn’t really think about linking them elsewhere.

    Suppose I should be giving credit where it’s due.

  55. Actually I’ve created a page on my site for the purpose of listing the plugins I use complete with links back to the author sites. Just my little way of acknowledging them.

  56. I use like 4 plugins, they serve me well, and there are no ads. If plugins had adware, which I will say right here that I detest, and if I had to go through trouble making sure that my plugin had no adware, then I would stop using plugins altogether. If it were bad enough, I’d switch to Nucleus CMS.

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  58. I agree with you. For lots of times I see a nice feature on a blog UI and have to ask the owner which plugin he used for that. Now, with themes, all I wanted were on the directory, I never saw a blog with a theme that made my eyes shine.

    Indeed, I know just 2 or 3 themes that I like, but there are denz of loving plugins.

    The problem I see, is that since we normally use just 1 theme per blog and as many plugins we want, it’s not much to “waste” a line giving credit to tht theme author.
    But with plugins, we’d need to at least use some sidebar space listing them all…

    Yeah but I think WP would be nothing without the plugins, so I will develop an ul listing all my plugins and post on my sidebar 🙂

  59. I agree that advertising should not be forced on people just because they want to use a theme. On the other hand designing a decent theme can take a long time so why not do what us plugin authors do and put a donate link right next to the download link? I’ve had love during my plugin devlopment time and so would theme authors the problem is that people are innately greedy :S